"The Price of Vengeance" - Part Four

Following a recon of the restaurant and the surrounding area which turned up nothing, Mouse and I went in fifteen minutes ahead of schedule.

The Kyoto House Restaurant occupied the ground floor of a small, two-story standalone at the corner of 36th Avenue and Archer near the southern end of Little Tokyo.

We were led at a table in the back. I told the server we were expecting a few more people. He nodded, bowed, and left the table. We sat, back to the wall, facing the main entrance. Aside from us, there were three others: a smiling young couple and a harried-looking corpgeek. The couple shared a plate of sushi rolls and an energetic story punctuated by giggles and snorted laughter. The corpgeek ate from a bento box and hunched over a laptop.

"Look familiar?" I said to Mouse as we sat down.

"Last night," she said. "We were a block down."

"I don't like this."

"Me either."

"Stay frosty."

"Five by five."

At exactly 15:30, a pair of corp muscle walked in. Broad shouldered. Dark suits. Blank expressions.

One took position at the door.

The other looked at us. Then he spoke briefly to the couple and the corpgeek. They got up and left the restaurant. He turned back to us, pulled a phone from his suit jacket pocket, and spoke into it.

A moment later, a bull-necked, barrel-chested Japanese man in a badly fitting suit waddled in. A shorter compact man with a closely shaved head wearing a dark suit and red tie came in just behind Big Man. They took a seat at a table in the middle of the restaurant. Big Man laced thick fingers on the table in front of him. Red Tie leaned back in his chair but he looked like a coiled spring.

The second muscle sat in a nearby booth, attention on us.

I got up, went to the table, and sat down across from Big Man and Red Tie.

Big Man looked me up and down with dark eyes. "You the one?"

"Yeah," I said.

"Good. Where is it?"

I frowned. "Where's what?"

"Come come. I'm not here to play games."

"No games. What are you talking about."

"Don't waste my time," said Big Man. "Hand it over."

My neck hairs saluted.


I looked at Big Man with narrowed eyes. "What's the job?"

Big Man gave a start. "Job? What job? You're supposed to give me a package--"

I yelled: "Em! Bounce!"

Then sprinted for the door.

Red Tie lunged for me. I clotheslined him and he crumpled into a nearby table.

From behind me came a pair of meaty thunks followed by strangled yelps.

Mouse loves her pointy toys.

I burst out the front door and was halfway across the street when light flashed at my back. The world roared. The concussion wave shoved me forward. I went sprawling over the hood of a parked sedan, landed on the opposite sidewalk amid a hail of burning debris and bits of glass.

I rolled to a crouch and peered over the car.

The sign hanging in front of the restaurant groaned, sprayed sparks, then fell off with a crash.

I turned and spotted Mouse nearby. We exchanged looks.

This was starting to get a little complicated.

* * *

Back at the car, I called Eddie.

"Good timing," he said. "Was just about to ring you."

"Need an info dump," I said.

"You always do. Who's the mark?"

"David Takahashi."

"Give me ten. I'll call."

"We kinda need to lay low," I said. "We'll come over."

"Fine by me. I'll keep an eye peeled."

* * *

Fast Eddie's shop occupied an abandoned autobody shop off Edge Road on the northeastern tip of the Southside District, past Highway 401.

After we went in, Eddie dropped his wiry, lab coat-clad frame into a high-back leather chair and swiveled toward his workstation, a U-shaped configuration of tables that sat against the far wall of the converted repair bay. Assorted electronic equipment trailing wires and cables occupied the two side tables. Three flat-screens, two keyboards, and a cyberdeck dominated the middle table.

"I genned up on our young David," he said and typed commands on one of the keyboards. "Seems he's quite the little soldier."

"Soldier?" I said. "I thought he was working construction?"

"In his previous life, yeah. But look." Eddie pointed to the center flat-screen. A dossier. David's picture stared out at us, his hair shaved close to his head, military fashion.

"Joined the CFS Armed Forces seven years ago," said Eddie. "Served a three year tour, then joined Special Ops."

"Alpha Team," I said. Best of the best. And then some.

Eddie nodded. "Alpha Team."

Mouse gave a low whistle.

"But have a gander here." He pointed to an entry toward the bottom of the screen.

I read it.

Then read it again.

"Is that right?" I said.

"Far as the public's concerned."

Mouse looked up from reading and snorted. "He looks pretty good for a two-and-a-half-year old dead guy."

"But it's all public record, innit," said Eddie.

I nodded and smiled. "What's the private record?"

"That's where things got interesting."

"How interesting?"

"Classified interesting."

I raised an eyebrow.

Eddie nodded. "Bloody right. But I got it. Well, part of it anyway."


Eddie typed again. Another window appeared on-screen. He tapped the display with his finger. "According to this, six months after joining Alpha Team, David became part of some hush program called 'Spartan.' Far as I can tell, it involved extensive mods. All top line. And bioware."

Mouse looked at me. "You called it."

I nodded. Bioware. Biologically tailored implants. No chrome. No chips. All vat-grown. Undetectable, unlike typical cyberware. Perfect for someone who doesn't want to look like a mass of flesh and machine.

I could think of one reason why the military would be doing this.

"Super soldier," I said.

"Wiz," Mouse said. "Alpha Team and super soldier."

"And two years dead." I turned to Eddie. "Army would notify next of kin at the time of death, right?"


"So why didn't Staci know?"

"Staci?" Eddie said.

"From the Red Dog."

"With the cat-eyes? David's her brother?"

I nodded. "She told us she hadn't heard from him in seven years."

"The notice never got to her," Mouse said.

"Go back to his file," I said to Eddie.

He keyed a command. The dossier appeared on the center screen.

I scanned it.

"Bingo," I said, and pointed to one of the entries.

"Bloody hell," said Eddie.

Mouse looked over his shoulder. "No next of kin."

I frowned. "Still doesn't explain what he's doing here..."

A thought struck.

"Another dump," I said.

Fifteen minutes later, Eddie finished his datarun and Mouse and I were back at his workstation.

Eddie upended a full can of Tsunami cola and lobbed it into the cardboard box full of empty cans then turned a frown toward us. "You're not going to like this."

"Why not?" I said.

"It's bad," said Eddie.

(to be continued...)

"The Price of Vengeance"
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Part 5

"The Price of Vengeance" - Part Three

At the crack of noon the next day, while Mouse sat on the floor of our apartment above the Red Dog Bar and oiled her other blades, I called Fast Eddie, our favorite 'netjockey.

"Mornin', luv," he answered in his bright Cockney-laced tenor.

"Need info," I said.

"In the middle of something right now. Can it wait?"


The crunch of snacks--no doubt greasy potato chips--greeted my ears. Then: "Two hours."


"Not local. I'm on min gear."

"Fine," I said. "Buzz when you're back." I hung up.

"I was thinking," Mouse said, examining another of her wakizashis. "Maybe David's like that Aussie in the vid we saw last week. With the bone lace and the claws."

"I'm leaning more toward top line bioware," I said. "Expensive as hell, though."

"How'd he get it?"

"Don't know, but we'll find out."

A knock at the door.

"Yeah?" I said.

"Are ya nekkid?" a reedy voice called out.

Specs. Everybody's favorite info broker.

Mouse snorted. "Yeah, we are!" she called back. "Nekkid and oiled up."

The door popped open and a pair of round-framed mirrorshades topped by a bald head peered in. "Liar," Specs said. "Kill my dream, why don't you."

"Pervert," said Mouse.

"Damn right."

I sat down on the battered rust-orange couch and put my feet up on the low coffee table. "What do you want, Specs?"

He walked in, clad in a Hawaiian shirt the color of a paint factory explosion, and perched on the arm of the couch. "Do I have to want something? Can't I just make a social call?"

"You don't make social calls."

"You're right."

"So what's the deal?"

"Possible run," he said. "Some suits are lookin' for experts. Sounds like a retrieval."

"You don't know?"

"They didn't mention details."

"They mention anything?"

"Fifty thousand per."

I whistled. "Nice take."

"You two in?"

I looked at Mouse.

Her brow furrowed. She mouthed: "Staci."

I mouthed back: "Later."

She shrugged and nodded.

I turned to Specs. "In."

"Fab. I'll tell 'em and get you details." He got up and started toward the door, then stopped and turned back to us. "Oh yeah. One more thing. Somebody's been nosin' around about you."

"Who?" I said.

"No idea. But one of my guys passed the word to me."

"When was this?"

"Earlier today."

"Can we talk to your guy."

"Sure. I'll tell him you're comin'."

* * *

We found Specs's guy, a fiftyish, balding, skinny bartender named Eli, in the alley behind Muldoon's Pub on 47th Avenue in the Lower East Side.

Eli lobbed two filled garbage bags into the dumpster, wiped his hands on the back of his rumpled pants, then turned toward us. "You from Specs," he said with a drawl.

"Yeah," I said.

"Heard 'bout you two." He sniffed, his walrus-like mustache twitching. He squinted at me. "Y'ain't so tall."

I grinned. "Tall enough."

"Way some folks tell it, you're four meters tall and shoot fire out yer eyes."

Mouse snickered. "Been known to happen."

I shot her a dirty look then turned back to Eli. "Specs said somebody's been asking about us."

"Yep," said Eli.


"Young feller. Dressed like a suit. Smelt like trouble."

"What'd he look like?" Mouse said.


Mouse and I exchanged looks.

"He give a name?" I said.

Eli grinned. "That'd be too easy."

I shrugged.

"No name," Eli said. "But he described you two."

"What'd he want?'

"Never said. Just asked if I knew 'bout you. Said I didn't. Then he left."


"Just after we opened. 'Bout two hours ago."


Eli nodded. "No problem." He turned and went back inside Muldoon's.

* * *

"What'd you think?" said Mouse as we walked the two blocks back to the Mustang.

"I think it's David."

"Could be somebody else."

"He described us."

"So could anyone else."

"Staci lives in this neighborhood."

"Okay. Narrows it down a bit. But it still doesn't say 'David' to me."

"Just a hunch, Em," I said.

When we got to the car, I put my hand on the driver's side door handle.

And stopped.

The hairs on the back of my neck saluted.

I frowned.

Something off.

"Kat--" said Mouse. I heard the tone in her voice.

"You, too?" I said.


Pan and scan.

The sidewalks teemed with peds ambling past storefronts, eyes taking in shop or restaurant windows, or focused on some downstreet destination. Hawkers, manning portabooths loaded with trinkets or eats, fought for attention, their calls and voices mingling with the sound of traffic.


Scanned the rooflines.

Save for a few pigeons, empty against a dead channel-gray sky.

Nothing again.

"The hell...?" Mouse said.

"I know. I don't like it."

My phone chirped. I got into the car, answered it.


"I talked to those suits," he said. "They wanna' meet."

"They give you more details?"

"It's a retrieval. Like I said. But they'll talk details in person."


"Little Tokyo. Place called Kyoto House. Two hours."

"We'll be there."

I told Mouse. Then said: "Enough time to go back to the Red Dog, gear up, and scope out the site."

"Let's do it," she said.

As I started the Mustang, I took a final look around.

Still nothing.

Something smelled.

And it smelled like trouble.

* * *

The dead cat hung off the women's bathroom door, pinned in place with Mouse's broken wakizashi blade from the previous night.

In a bygone era, it would be called "a bad omen." I call it "a threat." Plain and simple.

I don't appreciate threats.

"David," I said, inclining my head at the dead animal.

"Bastard," Mouse said. "That was a good blade, too. I'll take it out on his balls."

Revell, the Red Dog's burly and bearded owner, came out of the kitchen, wearing a pair of rubber gloves and carrying a dish towel. "Lock on back door was bypassed," he said in his Russian-tinged basso. "No forced entry." He wrapped the towel around the blade, took a grip, and yanked. The corpse flopped to the floor.

Mouse made a face. "Nasty."

Revell picked up the dead animal and went out the back door.

"David's trying to change our minds," I said.

"That'll be the day," said Mouse.

(to be continued...)

"Price of Vengeance"
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4

"The Price of Vengeance" - Part Two

Two hours later, Staci, Mouse, and I were sitting in the Red Dog's back office once more.

"The last time I saw David," Staci was saying, "was seven years ago. It was nine months after our folks died in a car accident. We went out for dinner. When I tried to call him a few days later, he was gone."

"Just like that?" I said.

She nodded. "Just like that. No email. No telcom message. Nothing."

"Gone to where?"

"Don't know," she said. "Never heard from him after that."

"Did you try friends?" Mouse said. "Girlfriend? Boyfriend? Somebody he might've talked to?"

Staci smiled. "David wasn't the social type, if you scan."

"Loner," I said.

She nodded. "Standard moody little brother. Even moodier after Mom and Dad died."

I leaned back in the chair. "So if you haven't heard from him in seven years, why do you say he's in trouble?"

Staci's eyes narrowed. "Two days ago, I saw him standing across the street from my apartment."

Mouse and I exchanged looks.

Staci went on: "I had just come out of my building and...there he was. He looked at me. Right at me. Then..." She frowned.

"Then...?" I said.

"A bus went by. When it passed, he was gone." Staci looked at me. "He's in trouble isn't he."

"Maybe he just stopped by to see you?" Mouse said. "In town for a few days, wanted to see big sis?"

"With no warning?"

Mouse shrugged. "Maybe it was a surprise?"

I said: "What was your last night like? When you two had dinner together?"

"Casual," she said. "We talked about things."


"Like how we were doing. That sort of thing. We didn't exactly travel in the same circles. I was here in BC. He'd moved out the year before and was living in Northwood."

"How was he doing?"

"Okay, I guess. He said he was working for a construction company out that way. Everything seemed fine."

"Remember the name of the company?" said Mouse.

She thought for a moment. "Mc-Something and Brothers." She made a face. "Sorry."

"Don't worry," I said. "It was seven years ago. But a good place to start looking. Do you have a picture of him?"

"Got a couple back at my place."

"You mind if we borrow one?"


I got up. "We'll give you a ride."

* * *

Staci lived in a four-story walk-up on 30th Street in the Lower East Side. I pulled the Shelby up in front of the building and we followed Staci up to the top floor apartment. She unlocked her door, stepped inside, then recoiled and bumped into me.

"David!" Staci gasped and dropped her apartment keys.

Over Staci's shoulder, I saw a figure sitting at the kitchen table opposite the front door.

Her brother. Tall and dark-haired, wearing jeans and a gray sweater.

The hairs on the back of my neck rose.

I frowned.

Something was off.

David stood up. "Hi, sis. Miss me?"

I scooped up Staci's keys, slipped past her, and stood to the right of the door.

I heard Mouse move off to Staci's left.

David's eyes narrowed. "Who are they?"

"I'm Kat," I said, then inclined my head at Mouse. "That's my partner, Mouse."

David frowned and I saw him tense.

"They're friends, David," Staci said. "I asked them for help."

He turned to Staci, the frown deepening. "You're in trouble?"

Staci chewed on her lower lip. "No. But I think you are."

David gave her a lopsided grin. "Me? I'm not in trouble--"

"David, stop it."

"Stace, I swear--"

"I said stop it!" Her voice rang through the apartment. David blinked, as if she'd slapped him. "You disappear for seven years without saying a word? You show up across the street two days ago and vanish again? Now you're sitting in my apartment in the dark? In the middle of the night? What the hell do you call that?"

I put a hand on Staci's shoulder, felt her body shaking.

"Stace," David began, "listen to me..."

I turned to him. "David, we can help--"

He swung his head toward me and his eyes pulsed red. "This isn't your concern," he said.


I heard Mouse's blades sing out from the scabbards inside her coat. At the same time, the Twins leaped into my hands and centered themselves on David. I stepped in front of Staci.

"Stay back, Staci-chan," Mouse said.

"What's going on?" said Staci. I heard panic in her voice.

"Was going to ask your brother the same thing," I said, still looking at David. "Chase any suits lately, David? Say, f'r instance, someone named Nakagami?"

"David?" Staci said.

David's eyes glowed red once more. "I warned you," he said to me. "Don't meddle in things--"

"--things I don't understand," I finished. "Blah blah blah. You still haven't answered the question."

David smiled. Then looked at Mouse.

Mouse leveled one of her wakizashis at him.

The Twins tracked David.

Suddenly, he surged forward, raised his hand, and impaled it halfway down the wakizashi blade. Then he twisted his wrist and the blade snapped off with a loud spang.

Staci gasped.

"Holy shit--!" Mouse said.

David looked at the length of steel jammed through his palm, then yanked it out. Blood dripped off his hand onto the carpet. He leveled the blade fragment at me. "Stay away from this. And stay away from my sister."

Then white light exploded around me and thunder boomed through my skull.

* * *

Flash-bangs--concentrated thunderclap combined with supernova flash in a fist-sized canister--are great for disorienting your opponents while you rush in and beat the crap out of them.

Not so fun when they're used on you.

David had dropped one of them on us and vanished from the apartment.

I sat at Staci's kitchen table trying to stop the ringing in my ears and the sporadic double-vision when Mouse crawled in--unsteadily--through the window from the fire escape outside.

She dropped into the chair across from me, rubbed at her temples, and inclined her head. "Still?"

"Hell yes," I said. "You weren't on top of them when they went off."

"Should've ducked."

"Bite me." I grinned then gestured at the window. "Anything?"

Mouse shook her head slowly, trying not to wince. "Must've cleared a couple of rooftops by the time I got out there. Not even a trail from that cut."

I frowned. "Damn."

"That's not David."

We turned toward Staci.

She sat straight-backed on the edge of her couch staring at her feet, hands folded on her lap. "That's not my brother."

"Staci--" I said.

"No." She shook her head and looked at us. "I'm sorry for dragging you two into this. You don't have to finish the job." She looked at the window. "Something tells me he's beyond help."

"Sorry, Stace," I said, "but we can't back out now."

She blinked. "You can't?"

"We can't?" Mouse echoed.

I shook my head. "No, we can't. We finish every job we take."

"Not if we get greased," Mouse said.

I shot her a glare then turned back to Staci. "Besides," I said. "You're family. We don't back out on family."

(to be continued...)

"The Price of Vengeance"
Part 1 | Part 3

"The Price Of Vengeance" - Part One

The figure shot out from around the corner of 37th and Archer right into the path of my refitted 2008 Shelby GT500.

"Watch it, Kat!" Mouse said.

I jammed my foot on the brakes, jerked the wheel.

The Shelby fishtailed to a squealing stop.

The figure kept going. Bounced off the hood. Hit the pavement, hard.

Just another day in the life of a ronin. Street mercenary. Gun for hire.

Me. Name's Kat.

I got out of the car as the figure--a fortyish Japanese corpgeek with a rumpled gray suit and an acne-scarred face--scrambled to his feet.

"You okay?" I said.

He spun toward me and recoiled, fear etched on his face.

Typical reaction. It's not everyday that a meter-ninety of dark-haired Amazon hits you with an antiquated car, then gets out and comes over for a closer look.

I stopped and held up both hands, palms out. "Easy. I don't bite."

Mouse, my partner and fellow ronin, came up beside me, her short brown hair pulled back into a stumpy ponytail, a few stray locks always spilling across her forehead. Her black leather trenchcoat billowed cape-like around her. "Yo, choom," she said to the corpgeek. "No worries. We come in peace."

My optic clock read: 22:45:33.

"Little late to be out jogging, isn't it?" I said.

"He's letting off steam," said Mouse. She inclined her head to the corpgeek. " Whatsa matter? Bad karaoke?"

The man looked past us, let out a strangled yelp, and stumbled back, hitting the curb and falling on his ass.

I pivoted.

As I did, the Twins, Bonnie and Clyde--my pair of Colt-Springfield M2001 .45-caliber high-capacity pistols--leaped into my hands from the double-holster shoulder rig underneath my black leather biker jacket.

At the same time, I heard metal sing out as Mouse's wakizashis whipped from the scabbards beneath her coat.

Japanese short swords.

Mouse loves her pointy toys.

A figure strode out of a nearby alley, jungle cat slow, and stopped in the middle of the sidewalk. Tall male. Leanly muscled beneath black fatigues. Face covered by a black balacalava.

And glowing red eyes--

What the hell?

I popped my optics to thermograph.

What I didn't see made the hairs on the back of my neck bristle.

Aside from optics and what looked like bone lacing, nothing.


Yet he gave off an air of tightly restrained violence.

I've run into my share of both highly trained fighters and outright psychos. But this guy was something else entirely.

Bad news.

Just my luck.

"Kat..." Mouse began.

I heard the tone in her voice. "I know," I said.

"Just checking."

I kept my gaze--and the Twins--on the figure. "No problem here, is there?" I asked.

Balaclava turned glowing eyes toward me. Then he turned to the suit and took a step forward. "Tetsuo Nakagami," he said. "Time's up."

Nakagami gurgled a pathetic reply.

I took a step forward, still keeping the Twins leveled at Balaclava, trying to ignore the little voice in my head telling me to run. "You didn't answer my question," I said.

"I'd answer," Mouse said. "She's got an itchy trigger finger."

Balaclava looked at us. "This isn't your concern," he said.

"Too late," I said. "It is now. So talk. Or should I let these two"--I gestured with the Twins--"do the talking?"

He started toward Nakagami.

"Hold it," I said.

He got to the middle of the street, kept walking.

"I said, hold it."

Nakagami yelped.

Mouse sprinted to the corpgeek, planted herself between him and Balaclava, and dropped to a fighting stance, blades at the ready. "Kat..." she said.

"Fuck it," I said and squeezed both triggers. The Twins boomed twice and four slugs plowed into Balaclava. He doubled over, staggered back a step.

And stood up.

What the fuck?

Then he moved, too fast for me to follow until he was standing in front of Mouse.

Mouse slashed at him.

Balaclava blocked the swing and Mouse's blades bit deep into his forearm. He grabbed her trenchcoat collar with his free hand and threw her aside.

Mouse landed in a heap several meters away and her blades went skittering across the blacktop.

I ran to her. "You okay?"

"That fucking hurt!"

"Don't meddle in things you don't understand," Balaclava said.

We turned toward him.

He fixed us with a look. "This is your only warning," he said, then turned to Nakagami.

The other man stared at Balaclava, wide-eyed, mouth open.

Balaclava loomed over the corpgeek. "Tell Takeda I'm coming for him."

Then he turned and sprinted back across the street into the darkness of the alley.

I popped to thermograph only to catch a blurred form vault four stories to the roof of the nearby building and vanish from sight.


I turned to check on the corpgeek.

He was gone, too.

* * *

Staci Takahashi was waiting for us in the Red Dog Bar's back office.

"I need your help," she said as Mouse and I walked in.

"Love the do, Staci-chan," Mouse said, inclining her head at Staci's close-cropped red-orange hair.

Staci gave a small smile.

"What's up?" I said.

Staci's almond-shaped cat-irised eyes narrowed. "I think my brother's in trouble."

"Trouble's our business," Mouse said, dropping into the couch.

I shot Mouse a look.

She shrugged. "Old vid."

I perched on the edge of the desk and turned back to Staci. "What kind of trouble?"

Staci frowned and fidgeted with the green apron Revell made the bartenders wear. "I don't know. Not exactly."

"Not helping much, Stace," I said.

"Call it a sisterly hunch," she replied.

Mouse's brow wrinkled. "Can you vague it up any more?"

Staci's face fell. "Sorry."

"Mouse is right," I said. "That doesn't give us much to work with. Got any details we could use?"

"I might," she said, "but it'll take a while and I need to get back on shift. How about I meet you after?"

"Sure," I said.

"So you guys'll help?"

I glanced at Mouse.

She was looking at me expectantly.

I turned back to Staci.

Staci noticed my hesitation. "Revell said--" she began.

I held up a hand.

Out of all the bartenders Revell had hired over the years I'd known him, Staci had lasted the longest. She'd been there when Murphy took me under his wing five years ago. She'd been there when Mouse came on board two years later.

And she was there when Murphy died three months ago.

Like Revell, she was family to us.

"We'll help," I said.

"You will?"

I nodded. "Been kinda boring lately," I said. "And her whining"--I jerked a thumb at Mouse--"is driving me wonky."

Mouse stuck her tongue out at me. "Bite me."

Staci beamed. "You guys are wiz." Then she chewed on her lower lip. "One more thing..."

* * *

Mouse stared.
I stared back. "What!"

"No charge?" she said through gritted teeth.

"Keep it down," I said, glancing at the office door as it shut behind Staci.

"Are you crazy?" Mouse said. "We're running a business, remember?"

"She's family," I said. "You gonna charge family?"

Mouse frowned. "Well..."

"Stop worrying," I said. "We still have half the creds left from the Lazlar payout. We'll be fine."

"Yeah," Mouse said. "If we want to live off kibble for the next month."

(to be continued...)

"Price of Vengeance"
Part 2

"Life Goes On"

01 July 2042 - One Day Later

The door to the flat above the Red Dog Bar creaked open and Specs stuck his head inside. "You expect me to carry this in there?" he said. "I already carried 'em up the goddamn stairs."

I looked up from the coffee table where I'd been threading a bore brush through Clyde's field-stripped barrel. "You're all heart, Specs," I said.

"And you're an ungrateful shit," he said, shoving the door open with his shoulder and coming in with a pair of large hardcases.

I set down Clyde's barrel and the bore brush, wiped my hands on the towel at my waist, and stood up. "That it?" I guestured at the cases.

Specs nodded and set them down by the coffee table. "The four Sigs. And the other MP5."

"Mags and rounds?"

"Box of mags for both downstairs. And a handtruck for the rounds."

I nodded. 10,000 rounds of .45-caliber and 9mm ammunition were heavy.

"I'll give you a hand," I said and headed for the flat's door.

"Damn well better," said Specs, following. "I got me a bad back."

"You do not."

"Was a fuckin' war wound."

"What war was that?"

"None of your business."

"You whine too much," I said.

"The hell I do."

"You're already getting extra for this, you know."

"By the way," he said. "You know Jade's back?"

That didn't surprise me. "I figured, " I said.

"I thought you said she got shot during the Lazlar thing?"

"In the chest. Wouldn't have killed her. I bet she's pissed, right?"

"For the chest shot?"

"That was Burns who shot her," I said. "I mean about the hair."

"What hair?"

I told him.

Specs nearly fell down the stairs laughing.

* * *

The rounds were in twenty labeled ammo cans stacked on a handtruck and secured with ratchet straps.

Specs grabbed the box of magazines sitting on top of the stack.

I grabbed the handtruck handle and headed back up the stairs, pulling the load after me.

"I gotta ask," Specs said.


"Why are you two still here?"

"Say again?"

"That was one hell of a payout from the Lazlar thing," he said. "You two had it made. Whyn't you retire? Know what you could buy for that much money?"

"I do," I said. "Mod checks for one. Repair the Shelby for another."

"Okay okay," he said. "I get the picture."

"And Doc was pretty specific about the mod checks. Especially since we were about two months late with ours."

"I thought you both had top line mods?"

"Yeah, but at the rate we were using ours? Was a good thing we went in when we did. Both of us had to go for a full torso mesh replacement."

Specs whistled. "That's a nice bundle right there."

"Not to mention checks and repairs on everything else we were packing. Add it up and it's a pretty nice chunk of change. Mods. The replacement. The Shelby. Other stuff." I did some quick calculations in my head. "I think we're at about half now. Split between us."

"You could still live easy on that."

I snorted a laugh. "Can you honestly see me and Mouse in some Highgate mansion?"

He shrugged. "Yer neighbors'd leave you alone. That's fer sure."

I shook my head and went into the flat. "Not our style."

"And runnin' around B.C. getting shot at by secmen and mooks is?" Specs said, following.

I set the handtruck by the coffee table next to the hardcases and undid the straps.

I said: "Do you really think Mouse and I could play by gliteratti rules? Or even burbee rules?"

"You got a point."

"Besides, there was three weeks between Lazlar and the Renaldi run. We started to get bored. Half that time we were recovering from the surgery. But still. Bored."

"You're fuckin' nuts."

"What about you?" I said. "You got a nice percentage from the Lazlar run. And a bonus. Why aren't you living it up?"

"Well, I did go to..." He cleared his throat. "No comment. Let's just say that pai gow and I still don't get along."

I grinned.

"So I take it retirement's not on your mind?" he said.

"Not yet," I said. "Maybe one day. In the meantime, the biz goes on. Life goes on."


03 July 2042
Plaza Suites Hotel
Seattle Metroplex

The woman who called herself Sakura got out of the shower, dried off, and put on clothes. Casual. Pants. Blouse. Mirrorshades.

Combed her hair back from her face.

Grabbed the suitcase off the bed, making sure not to step on the splotches of blood on the floor or touch the bloodstained bedcovers.

She took one last look at the two men sprawled out at the foot of the bed. Dark suits. Well-built. In their twenties.


One had his head bent in an unnatural position. The other was face up with a butter knife jammed up under his chin.

Their sidearms were still holstered.

She shook her head, grabbed the last piece of toast off the breakfast cart, and left the room.


NEXT TIME: "Price of Vengeance"